Thai Chicken and Peanut Curry, or Kaeng Massuman

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Literally translated, Muslim curry, this dish made it’s way to Thailand from Persia, due to the rich 17th century spice trade, in the former capital of Ayutthaya. I’ve been there- I think it was nicer back then! The mix of Middle Eastern and Thai spices makes for a rich, spicy and delicious meal, and a lovely change from the usual choice of red or green curries.

There’s also a few South East Asian techniques which make this different from Western cooking, so I’ll outline these here. I owe my understanding of these techniques entirely to Rosemary Brissenden’s bible on these matters, South East Asian Food, from which I adapted this recipe. Compared to other tomes, it is a little more expensive, but the history (as plagiarised above) and the understanding, and ability to explain the new techniques provided in there makes it worth every penny.

Firstly, with the exception of a FODMAP friendly substitution I added, you use no oil in the frying of the spice paste. Instead, as is traditional in Thai cookery, you boil thick coconut milk until it releases it’s natural oils, and use these instead.

Secondly, tamarind water is an ingredient. You can find jars of tamarind paste in larger supermarkets now, and I find a mix of a teaspoon to 110ml warm water works.

Finally, making a spice paste in a blender is easier. But this whips the mix full of air, and the chamber, even in a small electric mill, are too large to spread any moisture evenly, and will change the way it will cook. In this instance, lazy as I am, I recommend a pestle and mortar and a bit of elbow grease, or as I don’t have a pestle and mortar, a bowl and a rolling pin!

This was probably my favourite dish when I travelled in Thailand, and if you have never tried it, I can only entreat to you that this is one of food’s finest moments, a hybrid of moist chicken, warm spice, heat, sweetness, and the taste of peanut butter.

So I’ll shut up now, and leave you with a Thai poem about curry (thanks to Wikipedia!)

มัสมั่นแกงแก้วตา หอมยี่หร่ารสร้อนแรง – Massaman, a curry made by my beloved, is fragrant of cumin and strong spices.

ชายใดได้กลืนแกง แรงอยากให้ใฝ่ฝันหา – Any man who has swallowed the curry is bound to long for her.

Ingredients

Curry paste

  • 3-4 dried red chillies, deseeded
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 4 cardamom pods, opened
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1cm piece of ginger, smashed with the flat of a blade, and sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic (or enough garlic oil to make the paste sticky)
  • 1/2 stalk lemongrass, chopped

Curry

  • 1 can of coconut milk (try and get a good one, without thickeners and preservatives, as you’ll get no oil from these)
  • 1 sachet coconut cream, diluted in 350ml hot water
  • 1 large chicken breast
  • A large handful of peanuts, some chopped, some whole
  • 2 small potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
  • 110ml tamarind water
  • 2 tsp cane or soft brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce

Method

In a dry pan, roast the chillies for a few minutes, till you can smell them. Then do the same to the ginger, garlic and dry spices. Put them all in a pestle and mortar, and pound them into a paste. The wet ingredients should provide enough moisture, but if not, add a very little garlic oil at a time until it’s good. Set aside for later.

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Bring all of the diluted creamed coconut, and half the coconut milk to the boil in a pan, and add the peanuts and diced chicken. Reduce to a simmer until the chicken is half cooked, and the gravy a little reduced. Remove from the heat.

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In another large pan, add the remaining coconut milk, and boil hard until it released its oils. Reduce the heat and stir in your curry paste. Keep mixing until it’s blended nicely, then add the gravy from the other pan, a little at a time, and stir until it’s mixed in. Keep adding and stirring until it’s all in, then add the potatoes, chicken and peanuts.

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Mix in the tamarind water, sugar and fish sauce, and taste. Add a little more dependent on how sweet or salty you’d prefer. Simmer it down until the potato is cooked, and you could feasibly describe it as creamy.

Serve with rice, sticky and steamed if you can.

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